Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Journey with Gillian: 5 Tips to Surviving a Writers Conference as a Teen

by Gillian Adams

Hanging out with Jill at the conference!

This past September, after months of researching, praying, and gathering all the courage I could muster, I took a deep breath, ignored the butterflies in my stomach—butterflies? It felt more like an elephant doing somersaults!—pasted a confident smile on my face, and attended my first writers conference.

When I first learned that the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) annual conference was taking place in my home state, I was thrilled! I’d planned on attending a conference for some time, so I signed up before I had a chance to chicken out.

But by the time the conference rolled around, I had done enough research to feel somewhat prepared . . . and even more nervous.

Here I was signing up for appointments, attending workshops, and sitting at the same table as multi-published authors, agents, and editors! What was I thinking?

A conference can be a daunting experience for anyone, and I think it can be even more so for teen writers. But there are a few things I learned that I think can help you enjoy a writers conference and make the most of the opportunity.

Have fun

Don’t be so nervous, that you miss out on an awesome time!  I got to hang out with Jill. I met Stephanie and Roseanna face to face, as well as dozens of other authors whose books I’ve read and loved, and even a few writers my age that I still keep in touch with.

A writers conference is an opportunity to meet people like you—crazy people who understand things like difficult plots and obstinate characters, and don’t mind talking about them.

Step out of your comfort zone

Going to the writers conference was a thousand-foot jump out of my comfort zone. But it stretched me, I grew through the experience, and I had a great time.

So step out of your comfort zone. Talk to people you wouldn't normally talk to. Engage adults in conversation. Being comfortable carrying on a conversation with an adult is an invaluable skill to have as a teen—and not just in the writing world.

Confidence is Key

Confidence is one of those things that you have to fake until you make it. Walking through the door with a smile on your face, looking people in the eyes, and taking the first step to introduce yourself rather than waiting for others to come up to you, are all good ways to appear confident and professional.

But at the same time . . .

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Everyone there was in your position at one point in time. They know what it means to be a first timer and a new writer, and they want you to succeed. So if you’re unsure of something, don’t hesitate to ask! Expect to have questions, have a teachable spirit, and you'll get the most out of the conference.

You don’t have to prove yourself

Because you’re a teen stepping into the professional world, you may feel like you have to prove yourself. Don’t. Yes, it’s a good idea to act professional if you want people to treat you like one. So running up and down the hallway like you’re being chased by zombies, or sneaking around humming Mission Impossible theme music is probably not the best thing to do (although if you claim it’s book research, you might be able to get away with it . . . just kidding).

For the most part, everyone is extremely encouraging. But there will be a few people who will treat you differently because of your age. One lady told me I was just just adorable and looked like I was twelve. (I’m not by the way.) But don’t get defensive. Don’t feel you have to prove yourself. A humble and gracious attitude goes a long way.

It’s not You vs. Them

I tried to get appointments with both editors and agents, and wound up with two editor appointments where I had the chance to pitch my novel. Before the conference, I hunted down and devoured every bit of information that I could find, but as I walked into my first appointment, out of everything I'd learned, two big tips stuck with me:

1.     It's not you versus them. Editors and agents are seeking talent, not trying to prove that you are a failure. So don't expect to hear the executioner drums rolling as you march into your appointment. It can actually be fun!
2.     Editors and agents are people just like you . . . Okay, it sounds a bit silly put like that, but it's easy to read about editors or agents and mentally set them on a pedestal like some marble statue. But they are real people with ordinary lives, families, pets, good days/bad days, just like you. So approach your appointment prepared to have a conversation with a real person. Once I got over my initial nervousness, I enjoyed my appointments and had a pleasant chat with both editors.

At the end of the day, a writers conference is a wonderful time to learn your craft, improve your skills, get feedback, make friends and meet others who are just as passionate about writing as you are!

Are you planning to attend a writers conference in the near future? What are some things you're nervous about? Any questions about writers conferences in general?

I’m off on a grand adventure at the moment—probably canoeing down a river at this moment, or probing the depths of unexplored caverns—so I won’t be able to answer any questions or comments right away, but I will get to them once I get back!

Gillian Adams blogs over at Of Battles, Dragons, and Swords of Adamant where she writes about anything relating to books, fantasy, villains, and costumes. Her book Out of Darkness Rising will be published Fall 2013. She loves interacting with other writers and readers on her blog or facebook page.


25 comments:

  1. Thank you so much! I needed this. What did you bring with you, such as: proposals, cover letters, sample chapters, etc...

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    1. Each of the editors and agents had a list of what they wanted to see at an appointment on the conference website. So I figured out who I would like to have an appointment with and then prepared accordingly. I ended up bringing the whole shebang: one-sheet(one piece of paper with basic information about the story, story blurb, etc.), proposal, and sample chapters.

      Before the conference, I'd heard that you don't really need to bring your proposal to your appointments, because most agents and editors aren't going to want to walk away with a huge stack of paper in their hands. I ended up showing my one-sheet, proposal, and sample chapters to both editors, and they ended up keeping a copy of all three, so I guess it really depends on the situation. I was just glad I was prepared! ;)

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  2. Thanks Gill!
    I've never been to a conference but I definitely think I would act the same way as you! I'd be completely terrified!
    I guess you just have to remember that it's going to be different outside the writing world and that your not always going to be able to hang out with your imaginary characters!
    Thanks!!

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    1. Yes, it's scary, like any new situation can be, but it was also so much fun! :)

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  3. What exactly IS a writer's conference? Like, a discussion group?

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    1. That's a great question, Bex! Typically they last 2-5 days. There are lots of classes you can take ("How to write dialogue" "Understanding today's market" etc.), and typically you get a chance to interact with editors and agents face-to-face. Many conferences also have "paid critique" options where you can pay $30ish dollars to have a novelist you respect and admire read a few chapters of your story and talk to you about it.

      Both Jill and I have had really good experiences at conferences. That's where I found my first agent, where I met my critique partner, and where I've made connections that have advanced my career considerably. They cost money, but we both think it's a great investment.

      Many writing organizations have their own conferences, but also you can find some that are regional and not affiliated with a writers organization. I've done both and they're a lot of fun.

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    2. I've been going to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers' Conference for three years now. I started going when I was 16. I really do think the best part is meeting other people who don't think having conversations with people who live in your head is weird. haha. Everyone always wants to know what YOU write. Even the published authors! But you get to spend your day with them, attend workshops about what makes a story great and get critique. It's one of the best places I know to grow as a writer.

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  4. Love this, Gillian! Great advice. And it was fun hanging out with you and Emileigh too. But ... I always walk around humming Mission Impossible theme song. I'm not supposed to do that??? No one told me! ;-)

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    1. I had so much fun hanging out, Jill! Haha. Okay, I'll admit, I may have done that once or twice myself. ;)

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  5. Writer's conferences look interesting but scary. I don't think there are many (if any at all) in NZ, but I'd love to go to one someday.

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  6. I feel like if I went to a writer's conference, I'd be the least experienced person there. Still, thanks for the advice! I'll make it a goal to get to a conference someday.

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    1. Inexperience isn't a bad thing, as long as you're ready to learn! :) And the more I learn, the more inexperienced I realize I am!

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  7. I don't even know about writer's conferences within three hours of my house. . . . I hope I'll be able to get to one someday, but I just don't know.

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  8. Great post, Gillian! At my first writing conference (I was fourteen) no one could understand why my mom was with me (it wasn't a Christian conference). At the second one (I was seventeen) a few people thought I was much younger than I was, but most of them were just excited to see a young person who was willing to learn and into writing.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

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  9. Gillian, it was so nice to meet you at the ACFW conference :) I still get nervous, and I've been going to conferences for almost six years now!

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    1. Yes, it was a pleasure meeting you, Morgan! I don't suppose it ever becomes quite old-hat, does it? ;) Looking forward to the release of your next book!

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  10. Great post! I've been attending writers conferences for four years and on my second year I tried my first appointments and this year I did my first for real appointments and got three permissions to send. :) I'm almost twenty and trying to get published. It's really inspiring to hear from young authors like you and Rachel Coker. :) Thanks for posting!

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    1. Yay, Victoria! That's awesome. Let me know how it works out! :)

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  11. I'm not planning to attend any in the near future, but once I feel I'm ready, in perhaps a few years or so, that'll be a great option to consider. Thanks for the post!

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  12. Thanks for this post! I really felt like I needed one like this now. I am planning to attend the RT writing convention in early May, (I live near it so I thought it would be nice to go to one close to home first) and I am very excited and nervous!

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    1. Alright! That's super exciting. Close to home is definitely a plus. I hope you have a great experience! :)

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  13. Such great advice -- fake it till you make it yet don't be afraid to ask questions. I think I'll hold on to that one.

    I'd LOVE to go to a writers conference! Hey, Stephanie and Jill -- do you reckon one such place like ACFW would like to have a scholarship thing where they award one lucky person to fly to the USA and go to the conference? ;)

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  14. And I apologize for the random glitch in the last segment! Not sure what happened with that. :(

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  15. Pity there aren't conferences like these near where I live, though I think I'd absolutely freak out if I went to one. Still, getting to meet authors would be BEYOND awesome.

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